DASH Diet: What to eat in a “Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension”?


DASH diet and blood pressure

The interference to the blood supply to the brain leads to a stroke. It can lead to damages such as paralysis. Controlling blood pressure is an important factor to curb the ill-effects of hypertension. The number of people having hypertension is on the rise and it is important to make some lifestyle changes to maintain good blood pressure levels to avoid any adverse impacts.  The DASH diet has been designed to mainly treat hypertension and maintain healthy blood pressure.

What is blood pressure? What happens when it increases?

The heart pumps blood to the rest of the body. Blood is transported via blood vessels or blood capillaries. These blood vessels are connected to the heart (arteries). The arteries pump oxygenated blood from the lungs to the rest of the body. Any disruptions to this cycle will be deterrent to your body.

The pressure is exerted by the blood on the walls of the artery. Normal blood pressure range is between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg. It is still normal if it is ranging 120/80mmHg to 140.90mmHg but beyond this, an individual may be more prone to hypertension or high blood pressure.

How is it caused?

  • There is no single factor leading to high blood pressure. Factors such as alcohol or high salt intake, a family history, amount of physical activity, and weight are the major contributing factors.
  • Alcohol causes the narrowing of the blood vessels. This increases the blood pressure.
  • If you don’t have much physical activity, your heart will have to work extra hard to pump blood, the pressure on the arteries will increase and this increases blood pressure.
  • High salt foods cause a rise in the blood sodium levels. This will force out the water from the cells to the bloodstream. This adds more to blood volume and thus increases blood pressure.

Reduce blood pressure

  • You can balance the blood pressure out by exercising.
  • Rarely consume alcohol.
  • Reduce the intake of salt and indulge in stress relieving activities.

What is a DASH diet?

DASH or Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension was charted out by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It is basically designed to lower high blood pressure. People with high blood pressure for a prolonged time period might benefit greatly from this. Dietary recommendations for sodium recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), is about 2 grams per day.

  • The prime focus is on lean meats (or proteins), vegetables and whole grains.
  • Make sure that you consume more vegetables, low-fat dairy products, nuts, poultry, and fruits.
  • This was designed after scientists observed the reduction in the high blood pressure in vegetarians or vegans.
  • This diet does not consider those food sources that have added sugars, red meat, salt or fat.
  • This is a perfect stomach filling low salt diet and also provides added nutrients.
  • The lower salt version of this diet is about ¾ teaspoon only.

Reduce your blood pressure with the DASH diet

Blood pressure is defined by the following parameters:

  • The pressure on the blood vessels during the heartbeat.
  • The pressure on the blood vessels when the heart is at rest.

It is not like this diet lowers blood pressure in those who have high blood pressure only. It lowers the blood pressure even in normal people as well. Reports suggest a decrease of 12mmHg in the systolic pressure and 5mmHg reduction in the diastolic pressure with the help of this diet.

 DASH diet for weight loss

Researchers have proven that those who were on a DASH diet with a calorie restriction showed a significant reduction in both the blood pressure and the weight. The inverse is also applicable. If you lose weight, you will automatically lower your blood pressure.

Other key benefits of the DASH diet

  • DASH – reduces the risk of cancer (such as breast cancer, colorectal cancer, etc.) because this diet is rich in important immunity enhancing nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, proteins, etc.
  • It also prevents the onset of metabolic syndrome (a series of health ailments such as high blood sugar, high body fat, fatty acid accumulation, cholesterol build up, high blood pressure) by 81%.
  • Low sugar intake and a nutrient-rich diet will enhance the sensitivity of insulin.
  • This diet lowers the risk of a heart ailment by 20% and stroke by 29%.

DASH diet tips

  • Consume at least one serving of vegetables for your meals.
  • Include a serving of fresh fruits as a snack.
  • If you are consuming butter or any salad dressing or margarine, make sure you use only half serving.
  • Consume low-fat dairy products.
  • Transform some of your meals into a vegetarian. Restrict meat consumption to only 6 ounces for a day.
  • Add more vegetables and dry beans to your diet.
  • Instead of snacking on chips or sweets, eat unsalted pretzels or nuts, raisins, low-fat and fat-free yogurt, frozen yogurt, unsalted plain popcorn with no butter, and raw vegetables.
  • Read food labels to choose products that are lower in sodium.

Diet plan for the DASH diet

Make sure you consume 6 – 8 servings of grains per day

Include foods such as cereals, pasta, rice, etc. You can consume a combination of these grains.

  • Grains are vital as they contain fiber and more nutrients than the refined ones. You can use brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole grain bread, etc., instead of foods such as white rice, white pasta, or white bread. Purchase products with a label “100% whole wheat” or “100% whole grain”.
  • Fibers enable ease of bowel evacuation and also reduce the blood glucose levels.
  • Grains also contain less fat so this will not add to your weight.

Include 4 to 5 servings of vegetables for a day

  • Consider carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, broccoli, kale, tomatoes, etc. These vegetables contain minerals, polyphenols, vitamins, proteins, etc. Include one serving of raw leafy vegetables or about half a cup of a raw or cooked combination of vegetables.
  • Include these vegetables as a part of your main meal. For example, include a bowl of cooked carrots, tofu, broccoli and sweet potato along with your regular serving of brown rice or whole wheat noodles or pasta.
  • Opt for fresh or frozen vegetables. Again, when you buy frozen vegetables, make sure that they do not contain added salt.
  • You can enhance the flavor by cooking these vegetables in different ways. You can grill them or stir fry them or even bake them. Infuse flavors such as rosemary, methi, tea, etc.
  • Reduce the meat portion by 50% and compensate with veggies.

 Include 4 – 5 servings of fruits for a day

  • Every time you feel like binging on a snack, replace them with fruits.
  • You can prepare a snack with Greek yogurt laden with blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, some pears, banana, etc.
  • You can also consume them in the form of a juice but include the pulp. Excluding the pulp will take away some of the nutrients as well.
  • These fruits also contain potassium, magnesium, calcium, fiber, etc., and make you feel relaxed as well.
  • Consume fruits such as apple, pears, etc., with the peels as they contain fiber.
  • Citrus juices help in enhancing your immunity and add freshness to your diet. Consult a doctor if you are consuming citrus fruits as they might interfere with some medications.
  • Consume these juices as they are, with no added sugar

Consume 2 – 3 servings of dairy-based foods every day

  • Cottage cheese, yogurt, milk, etc., are some of the good sources of calcium. You can also derive vitamin D and proteins from them. Make sure you use low-fat dairy products (or even fat-free products) as they can be a significant fat source for you otherwise (because most of the fat content is saturated). You can include a cup of low-fat Greek yogurt or milk, etc. You can include fruits to add to your taste and good health.
  • If you are intolerant to lactose or dairy products, you can include ingredients that are lactose-free. You can also consider those products that contain the lactase enzyme. This enzyme digests lactose.
  • Make sure you monitor the amount of fat-free cheese you consume as it contains a copious amount of sodium.

Consume a max of 6 ounces of fish, lean meat and poultry

  • These products are a good stock of vitamin B, zinc, iron and proteins. Do not have more than 6 servings for the day. This enables you to make room for vegetables.
  • Take off the fatty skin from the meat and roast, bake, grill or broil them. Don’t deep fry them in oil.
  • It is essential you include fishes such as salmon, tuna, etc., as they are rich in healthy fatty acids (omega-3 fatty acids). This minimizes the bad cholesterol in your body.
  • Those who are vegetarians or vegans can benefit from non-meat sources such as soybean-based products (tofu, soy milk, etc). These products are protein rich.

Include 4 to 5 servings per week of legumes, seeds, and nuts

  • Foods such as lentils, almonds, peas, sunflower seeds, or other ingredients belong to this category. These foods contain protein, magnesium, fiber, monounsaturated fat, sterols, and other phytonutrients. They contain components that offer protection from heart diseases and even cancer.
  • Some nuts also contain calcium, iron, and antioxidants.
  • Make sure you curtail the number of nuts consumed as they are rich in fiber and excess of it results in gas, bloating and diarrhea.
  • You can include about 2 tablespoons of seeds or half a cup of legume beans or about 1/3rd cup of nuts for a day,
  • You can include them in cereals, salads, gravies, etc.

Include about 2 to 3 servings per day of oils or fats

  • Fats are vital for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, D, E, and K). Some fatty acids are also heart healthy.
  • The DASH diet recommendation limits fat to 30% (or less) per day.
  • You can include about 2 tablespoons of salad dressing. Olive oil, peanuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, etc., are some of the healthy dietary fats you can think of.
  • Make sure that the daily saturated fat intake is less than 10%. You can reduce the saturated fat amount by cutting down on consumption of cream, meat, whole milk, etc.
  • Refrain from trans fat intake. Trans fat causes belly fat to increase, accumulation of bad cholesterol levels, artery blockage, insulin resistance. This fat is mostly seen in processed foods such as fried items, baked products, etc.
  • Read the product labels so that you can choose those products that are free of trans fat.

You can also include about 5 servings or less of sweets per week

  • It is not like you should completely stop eating sweets, you just need to consume them in moderation.
  • Choose the ones that are low fat or fat-free such as jelly beans, low-fat cookies, sorbets, etc.
  • Reduce the intake of any added sugars as they are zero on any nourishment but only add to your calories.

DASH diet is mainly helpful for those who have high blood pressure for a prolonged time period. This diet enables the lowering of blood pressure and also aids in fat reduction when combined with exercise. The diet includes a balanced portion of healthy fats, sweets, and many nutrients. It is more like a balanced diet and does not deprive you of your taste fulfilments.

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